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(Babi Leto) (2001)
After seeing Autumn Spring, the reasoning for the films
awkward title becomes clear. Its protagonist is a sweet, irrepressible 76-year-old who
acts more like a wry teenager than a tired soul wasting away his sunset years. For one
thing, the codger delights in playing pranks. The films opening shot is of a
majestic, if crumbling, European mansion. A real estate agent shows the property to a
stuffy, precise old gentleman, a retired orchestra conductor, who tours the premises with
his nattily attired secretary. Dickering over 5 million, the maestro puts off the deal for
a few weeks, and the agents limousine drops the prospective buyers off at their
So much for the big sale: The next scene shows the two fellows at a
subway station, congratulating each other for a job well done. The guys arent really
emeritus members of the art world, theyre pensioners who did a little acting in
their day and still enjoy the rush of pretending -- and putting something over on an
Meanwhile, back at his clean yet modest apartment in a cement block
highrise, Fandas (the "conductors") grandkids and son have been
waiting for hours to celebrate his birthday with him. But by the time he gets home,
theyre gone. The conciliatory bouquet Fanda brings his understandably grumpy wife
doesnt quite work to placate her. She knows his game.
The estate buying scam is only the first in a host of adorable tricks
Fanda pulls off in this funny, poignant -- but never sappy -- award-winning film
from the Czech Republic directed by Vladimir Michalek and written by Jiri Hubac. Fanda
also convinces a stranger at a cemetery that hes an old friend, and a successful
mountain climber to boot. Or he and Ed pose as train ticket agents, eliciting innocent
kisses from sweet, young women they cite for having insufficient fare.
Vlastimil Brodský as Fanda is utterly transcendent in the part, which
was written specifically for him by his old friend Hubac, and which, sadly, turned out to
be his last role. A pillar of Czech theater in the 1950's who went on to appear in art
films of the Czech New Wave of the 1960s, Brodský concludes his career on a powerful, yet
bittersweet and ironic, note. Not having fully recovered from a stroke the previous year,
he committed suicide in May 2002.
But his Fanda is unforgettable. His quiet, understated performance
bursts with charm and not theatrics, and thats why he's undeniably real when
hes playing tricks on friends and strangers, and even more so when hes not.
With no sentimentality and never being cute, Brodský pulls off what so easily could be an
unbelievable character: an old guy with a keen zest for life, and someone who takes
pleasure in helping people. Always good-hearted, he even comes clean about his gags, and
is willing to pay for expenses incurred.
As his cohort Ed, Stanislav Zindulka displays the same kind of nuanced
joy that Brodský embodies, though he is most remarkable in a sad, emotional scene where
the men admit that their age has caught up with them. Its a tearjerker. As they
commiserate over their various ailments, Ed tells Fanda that their relationship, and his
dog, are the only things he lives for.
Death is on the mind of Fandas wife Emilie (Stella Zazvorkova,
another veteran of Czech theater), who meticulously plans for her funeral and stores the
finances for it in neatly arranged canisters on a shelf in the dining room. In the
movies loudest, least sympathetic role, Zazvorkova complements Brodský
beautifully. Yet her nagging is justifiable as her frustration escalates when her husband
continues to spend their hard-saved income on frivolities even if shes not
sure of their exact nature.
Director Michalek wisely keeps the pace steady and gentle throughout,
and he focuses the camera squarely on the actors' responsive, reflective, wrinkled faces. Autumn
Spring, a fun movie about and for old people, also happens to be a movie that young
people wont be able to resist.